DevOps for the Legacy World

A myth has been making the rounds for some time now, that we’d like to clear up. Apparently, DevOps isn’t for the legacy world.

Perpetrators of this myth assume that DevOps is purely for new, startup or unicorn companies – the Web 2.0 “Netflixes” of the world that have had the luxury of being able to grow, from a greenfield project, with DevOps at their core. Traditional enterprises – with a number of legacy technologies (anything older than 5 to 10 years) don’t fit this mould.  And they typically have much lower change frequency rates, which makes adopting DevOps practices “risky”.

At ECS Digital, we couldn’t disagree more. 

We truly believe that all organisations – big, small, old or new – can use aspects of DevOps to help achieve their business objectives. We’ve helped a number of our customers on this journey, and we’re starting to see an increasing trend of DevOps adoption in enterprises.

At this years’ DevOps Enterprise Summit, for example, many of the most popular talks tackled issues when bringing DevOps to traditional organisations and legacy applications.

What we’ve realised, is that people don’t need convincing of the benefits of DevOps. They need convincing that DevOps can be implemented in their organisation.  We find, that the business case helps… 

Why is DevOps key to unlocking value in the legacy world?

You’re only as strong as your weakest link (in this case the slowest process). Any system that’s slow, bulky and process-heavy will hold back a company from moving at the pace their consumers expect and demand. As well as stifling innovative efforts, moving slowly in our digital world could ultimately result in going out of business (For more on this, see our blog: Continuous Innovation).

When faced with these type of applications, organisations have two choices:

  1. Reengineer the application and replace it with something new and modern.
  2. Work with what they’ve got.

For most organisations, option 1 simply isn’t feasible.  They have spent so much time and moneyimplementing and maintaining the system, and it’s so important to how the business runs, that removing it would require an unpalatable level of risk and investment which would simply bankrupt the business.

The only viable option is to work with what they’ve got. Companies often assume this means that they have limited scope to improve business agility, productivity and quality. But this isn’t true: adoption of DevOps principles and practices let companies unlock value in the systems they already have. Processes support working practices, and tools support these processes.

In fact, Continuous Delivery for Mainframe is now 100% achievable – we even have one such project in progress as I write this article. Many leading Release Automation tools such as Automic deliver the same capability for mainframes as they do for Wintel and Linux platforms.  By applying these principles to legacy applications, organisations can get their existing systems to move as fast as the rest of their company and their consumer – or, at least, fast enough to remain competitive.

Legacy systems do face another issue – skill shortage. As time goes by, legacy skills are becoming less and less available, and more of a premium. Automation on those platforms through DevOps makes these niche skills less critical.

Is adopting DevOps within a traditional organisation difficult?

There are battles adopting different cultures, processes and tooling within any organisation. But these can be more prominent within a traditional organisation.

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As traditional organisations have typically been around for some time, the people in them are usually used to working the way they always have (often, slowly). At ECS Digital, we believe the best way to ease cultural change is to work with all teams that will be impacted, and help them to fully understand the benefits to the business – and individuals.  Individual benefits include exposure to new technologies and working practices, which enhance their marketability in the job marketWe’re currently doing this within one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world. 

 

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Within traditional organisations, process change can also be a bit of a hurdle. Where something has been done one way for so long, it can be difficult to understand why someone might need to come in and change the way things are done. We help people to peel back the layers and ask themselves why they do things the way they do – when there’s often a much easier, and quicker route.  Small changes can be easy to make, and have a big impact on end goals. Such processes have been implemented to support even siloed organisational structures with little (if any) collaboration or trust.

 

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Tooling needn’t be a battle when bringing DevOps to a traditional organisation. Whilst there’s some great tools out there, and a lot of different options – DevOps doesn’t mean you have to bring in entirely new tools to an organisation. Supporting poor processes with the best tools will have limited benefit – whilst good processes supported by good tools will deliver excellent benefit.

 

 

Just some of the organisations we’ve seen do this include:

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Microsoft is a great example of one of the world’s largest organisations becoming agile and innovative through DevOps. A well-publicised DevOps culture has enabled Microsoft to change their mind-set towards innovation, and compete against Apple – recently with the new Surface Touch. Microsoft goes to show that if they can do it at their size, so can any business.

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Barclays Bank has been very publically leading the way in IT for many years.  Barclay’s began automating their IT processes in 1959, and more recently has been taking steps to automate the IBM mainframe. Companies like IBM, CA and BMC are now automating mainframe applications as standard practice.

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Oracle’s Siebel CRM is a critical backend CRM system used by many large businesses. But – developed in the 1990s, existing Siebel development and integration processes fail to meet today’s agile processes and speed requirements. Automic, one of our partners, are now using Continuous Delivery to bring agility, consistency and reproducibility to Siebel deployments and releases.

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At ECS Digital, we’ve helped a large number of organisations to adopt DevOps practices within legacy applications and processes. Just some of these include automating old billing systems for a top 5 multinational telecommunications company and helping a leading 50 year-old retailer to adopt DevOps practices for increased innovation.   

So, what should you take away from this?

DevOps isn’t just for the new world. It can be implemented with huge benefits in any business.

The key: understanding how, and having an experienced, pragmatic and honest DevOps partner by your side.

 

Interested in finding out more about the work we’ve done at ECS DigitalTake a look at our Customer Stories. 

Jason ManDevOps for the Legacy World